The Denver Nuggets have lost six straight games but good news arrived Monday — Nikola Jokic is back after missing four of those.
They had been without league MVP Jokic (wrist injury) as well as their two other stars, Jamal Murray (knee) and Michael Porter Jr. (back).
The Nuggets are 2-6 away from the Mile High City while the Miami Heat are 6-2 in their past eight games.
“The only way we’re going to end this losing streak is if we find a way to play some defense,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said just before leaving for Miami, where the Nuggets will start a seven-game trip.
Monday will be the second time these teams have met this season after the host Nuggets beat the Heat 113-96 on Nov. 8. Jokic had a triple-double in that game — 25 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists — before getting ejected for his retaliation blow against Markieff Morris of Miami.
Morris, angry at a non-call on what he thought was a foul, was ejected for his intentional blow to Jokic.
With Morris (neck injury) ruled out Monday, it remains to be seen if there will be any bitter feelings between the teams.
The Heat, owners of one of the best records (13-7) in the Eastern Conference, are likely more focused on stacking victories, especially at home.
Miami is 6-1 at home this season.
“When we’re at home, we play lights out,” Heat center Bam Adebayo said. “It’s electric. We’re having fun.”
Miami is led in scoring (23.6), steals (2.1) and all-around toughness by Jimmy Butler, the player the Heat go to when they need a late bucket.
Also for Miami, Adebayo is averaging 18.4 points and a team-high 10.0 rebounds, and Kyle Lowry, while averaging just 12.3 points, leads the team in assists (7.4).
The biggest issue for the Heat is the health of guard Tyler Herro, who is averaging 21.8 points, and star Jimmy Butler (tailbone contusion). Both have been ruled out of Monday’s game.
Herro also missed Miami’s 107-104 win over the Chicago Bulls on Saturday due to illness.
With Herro out, seldom-used guard Gabe Vincent played 31 minutes off the bench and led the Heat with 20 points on 6-for-11 shooting, including 4-for-8 on 3-pointers.
Meanwhile, Denver has yet to truly recover from the injury suffered by Murray late last season. Denver was 35-20 when Murray’s left knee buckled. Since then, the Nuggets are 21-15, including 9-10 this season.
Murray has yet to play this season, and Porter’s chronic back issues have limited him to nine games. Jokic seems likely to return this week, but the injuries have taken their toll.
With their big three out, look for the Nuggets to rely on players such as Will Barton (16.3 scoring average) and Aaron Gordon (13.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game).
Monte Morris, Denver’s second-round pick out of Iowa State in 2017, has replaced Murray at point guard, averaging 11.4 points, which is on track for a career high.
Backup point guard Facundo Campazzo, a native of Argentina, is another player to watch. He had 16 points in 28 minutes in Denver’s most recent game, a 120-109 loss to Milwaukee on Friday.
–Field Level Media